Interview: Judd Apatow Discusses Everything

Comedy

(from left) Pete Davidson (Scott Carlin/executive producer/co-writer), Judah Miller (executive producer), Dave Sirus (co-writer/co-producer), Judd Apatow (director/producer/co-writer), Ricky Velez (Oscar/co-producer) and Robert Elswit (director of photography) on the set of The King of Staten Island.

Comedy and Judd Apatow are a perfect pair. So many of his films have been downright hysterical and some have also been touching as well. The King of Staten Island is a bit departure from what the public is used to seeing him but make no mistake that this film is fantastic. We were lucky enough to spend some time with Mr. Apatow over the phone discussing a wide range of topics.

DS: Are you taken aback by how many requests I put in to do this interview? 

JA: (Laughter) You reached the number of requests required by law.

DS: Let’s start with this … How do you think that this pandemic has changed the film industry for the foreseeable future? 

JA: Well, I think everyone is trying to figure out how they can shoot. They are just about to begin attempting … I believe they’re going to start filming the Jurassic Park sequel in England. I think everybody is hopeful that the protocol can keep people safe. It’s certainly terrifying, and one hopes uh that they will find a way to do that. I certainly will be paying close attention and don’t plan on trying to get anything into production until it’s very clear that there is a way to do it, which guarantees everybody’s good health. 

DS: Has the theatrical experience been forever altered by these recent events? 

JA: You know for many years people have developing new habits. TV’s got better. This sound at home got better. Streaming services provide so many movies and television shows on-demand while you know the movie theater experiences are unique. You know a comedy is much better when you see the film in a theater. Certain You know types of action movies, and spectacles are way better in a movie theater. Superhero movies are always very popular in movie theaters. What sometimes takes the hit is you know dramas. Sometimes people feel like they can wait to see those in their homes, and that’s very sad because Out of Africa and Chinatown, we need them and their best seen on the big screen. So hopefully, there will be a way to get them funded and seen on the big screen. We saw that happen with you know movies like Marriage StoryUncut Gems, and The Irishman, where they would be in theaters for a little while before they went online. That helps certainly get bigger budgets because there is an economic model that supports doing the best possible version of them. That’s what I’m hopeful for

DS: I think the world is starting to adjust to this new balance between streaming and the theatrical experience. I think that’s how it might be going forward.

JA: It’ll always be a part of people’s movie diet to go to the theater. I think what they want to see and how many times a year may change, but they will always be an important place for the theatrical experience. I always say if there’s a great comedy people go. There aren’t amazing comedies that don’t do well in the theater.

DS: Other than promoting The King Of Staten Island, what have you been doing to keep busy during the pandemic. 

 JA: I’m trying to stay sane … that’s a key aspect of my day. So I get up and take a multi-hour walk to clear my head and balance things out. You know, most of my day is taking care of my family. I try to take some time to write and read projects that we are developing at the company. So, you know, when there is an opportunity to shoot again, you know that we have a lot of material that we’re passionate about. It’s hard to access your imagination when such important things are happening in the world. 

DS: When did you know that your daughters were going into the family business? 

JA: When I first started using my kids, it was just because I found them so amusing, and I prefer being around them to strangers’ children. The way they behaved with us and each other made me laugh. I found it so engaging. So when we did Knocked Up and This Is 40, it seemed natural to try to capture what I was seeing. Sometimes shooting those movies was more like shooting documentaries because I would set up multiple cameras and say something that might set off a fight and see if I could get it on film. Now when I work with Maude, you know she’s a very experienced actress who is a part of our collaboration. She was fantastic as Pete’s sister because she finds a way like her mother, Lesley, to be both very raw and comedic at the same time. It’s difficult to find people who can do that.

DS: Is there a comedy classic that you would want to get your hands on and remake down the road?

 JA: I never think that way because if something is great .. I have the same thoughts. Why do we need another one? Why do we need someone to try to do it again and not screw it up? You know it exists. I also tend to want to work on things that I think of and just trying to recapture something that isn’t very appealing to me. It’s out of respect too. I mean, if someone wanted to redo my movie in 20 years, I don’t think I’d be that excited about it.

DS: How did Pete Davidson show up on your radar?

JA: We were casting Train Wreck, and I always like to use people in the world of my collaborator. So I said to Amy, You know who’s funny… Who should I know about? She introduced me to all these great people like Keith Robinson and Nikki Glaser, who used to babysit for my kids a long time ago. The first person she showed me was Pete Davidson, who was 19 years old and did stand up. I instantly noticed that he was 100 times funnier then I was and all my friends when we started in stand-up. So we gave him a cameo in Train Wreck. After he landed on Saturday Night Live, we started talking about making a movie together. He worked on another idea with me, but it wasn’t the right one, and then this idea bubbled to the surface. I always thought that he would be a really strong comedy star. I don’t think I thought we would do something like this. You usually know when people start making their silly movies first… maybe they make 10 of them before they try to go deep. For him to begin with this is pretty remarkable.

DS: Does Pete even realize how great he is in the film? 

JA: I think it was very important for him to do this correctly because it’s personal and involves his life story and his family’s story. I think all of us felt a responsibility to both his family but also to the firefighting and nursing communities to honor them with something strong. He certainly doesn’t work from a cocky, arrogant place. He’s a very comfortable natural actor. He’s not sweating. He’s never reaching for the joke. He’s not needy on the set. He’s very focused on the scene working properly, and he’s a great collaborator.

DS: What drew you to create a semi different version of Pete’s story?

JA: I’m always interested in how people heal. You know Pete lost his father when he was seven years old, and it had a significant effect on him and with a lot of my movies, we’re exploring what obstacles we have and how trauma affects us. I also was very interested in and making a movie that was about sacrifice.

DS: What did you fret over most .. striking the right tone in the film or maintaining a balance between the comedic and dramatic elements of the story. 

JA: The tone is always tricky because we wanted to tell a great story, but it has to be credible and authentic. Sometimes when you’re trying to find laughs, you can throw your credibility out the window to get that laugh. Suddenly a reality level could disappear if someone behaves in a way that’s not you know authentic to that world or how that character would behave. So I had to be much more disciplined than I have been in the past to not break any of the rules of this world. It was very generous of Pete to even share his story. You know grief and losing the people that we love is not a subject that we see in comedy that often but yet it’s one of the most important subjects. It was generous for Pete to share those feelings in order to make a movie people could relate to.

DS: Don’t sell yourself short. You deserve plenty of praise for how The King of Staten Island turned out. 

 JA: Well, I always want to do movies which are uplifting and hopeful you know this is a tougher subject matter than I’ve had in other films. But you know I you know I’ve been through it. My mom died the year before I made Funny People. A lot of that was inspired by um my relationship with her. I wanted to you know look at this in an unflinching way but also talk about how you can get through it and land in a stronger place.

DS: When you were writing The King of Staten Island, did you have a good sense of who you were looking for to round out this cast?

JA: Very early on, we talked about Marissa Tomei. You know she’s a brilliant actress, and you know it is someone of great substance but who also is very warm and funny. Pete wanted to work with Bill Burr, who was somebody that he looked up to as a comedian had known since he was very young. I thought If the person who plays Ray is someone that actually loves him, then I can have them really fight.  

DS: Is there anybody who’s working right now that you would want to work with down the road

JA: You know it’s about having an idea that’s appropriate for someone, and there are people that sometimes I connect with who have a great story, and I feel like I can help them dig it out. Every once in a while, someone who is already established wants to work together, and I have you know a lot of friends, and I like to work with uh you know when we have ideas that we’re excited about. Sometimes people are just great, and I feel like they don’t need me. That’s why it’s fun for me to work with people in their first projects because they have so much energy in time and passion. You know Pete went on all the locations scouts and helped us pick all the locations. You know when you work with someone who’s been around a long time they don’t do stuff like that. Pete sat in on every audition. As people get more successful, you find you have less time with them, and one of the reasons why some of the movies that I’ve worked on have come out well is just the amount of time that lead will give to the entire process.

 DS: What do you hope people take away from watching The King of Staten Island? 

JA: I hope it makes them happy and makes them laugh hard. I hope they feel compassion for other people and connections through a sometimes difficult journey. I think a lot of this time about you know the Buddhist idea of the illusion of separateness. They talk about how there’s this illusion that we are separate, but we’re not. We’re all in this together we’re all connected, and that’s the only way we’re going to solve the problems of the world is to have that level of kindness and compassion for everybody And in my movies, I hope that they communicate that on some level that you know they’re all about people coming together people trying to grow trying to heal and trying to learn how to love.

DS: Before I go and again, thank you so much for your time, My son Charlie asked me who I was going to record with, and I, of course, told him your name. His response as I shut the door is that I should ask you to be my best friend. 

JA: (Laughter) Well, I think it’s begun .. you tell him. 

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